Culturo Science for a Better World
Why are we not saving the world? In 1982, at a talk at the American Psychological Association, B. F. Skinner proposed this question to the audience and to the field of behavior analysis. Nearly 40 years later, we are living in a time where hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to a virus, the climate is nearing a point of no return, and protests have been occurring for over a month now based on the fair treatment of all people with a special focus on Black lives, among other important things. This simple question means probably more now than it did when it was initially asked. In many regards, we are at a turning point in the history and right now this question can no longer go unaddressed.
Would Skinner be proud of how we’ve addressed the issues in society as a field? Would he be impressed at how we’ve crafted and adapted our science of behavior to fit the needs of those in our society? Contrariwise, would he be underwhelmed at the lack of research and application of behavior science to the never-ending list of problems we face as a global community? Would he be disappointed at our seemingly narrow focus? These are questions that we should all take personally. Because the truth of the matter is that we won’t fix the world over night. We can’t address every individual matter of the world at once and expect success in doing so. But, we can try. We can influence the upcoming generation of behavior analysts to pursue research and practicum that typically fall off the path most traveled. We can lend ourselves and our expertise to situations that need it. We can use our platforms as researchers, practitioners, professors, supervisors, and supervisors to shed light on issues that are aversive to talk about. We can develop plans of action to reform structures that hinder the study and research of topics that are important to the success of humanity. We must all do our part and hold ourselves accountable for being stale towards the problems of the world; avoidance is no longer an option.
ABAI’s Culturo-Behavior Science for a Better World Conference will explore why we are not acting to save the world in these domains and how we can help ensure a better future. We will bring together scientists across related disciplines to explore how can we contribute. We are pleased to offer a virtual gathering of scientists across disciplines to explore how to contribute to a better future. Even in the midst of a pandemic we are eager to encourage dialogue in the scientific community. All aspects of the conference—presentations, posters, the career fair, and exhibits—will be accessible from the comfort of your home or office. BACB and PSY continuing education credits will be offered. Invited presentations are available for review online or via the ABAI events app. The call for posters will remain open until July 22; we encourage submissions that are conceptual, experimental, or provide a systems approach to understanding and acting on socially significant issues.
Lonnie G. Thompson: The Consequences of Ignoring the Changing Climate
Our greatest challenge in the 21st century is dealing with unprecedented global-scale climate and environmental issues. In this presentation, Dr. Thompson will review the global evidence, from the highest most remote regions of our planets to our own backyards, for accelerating rates of climate change and the rising risk of abrupt climate events. How climate changes and how we adapt to it affects every aspect of our existence, such as national and global economies, agriculture, quality of life, societal stability, human and animal migration, disease vectors, availability of food and safe water, even the possibility for life itself to exist. The effects of climate change in the US and other regions will also affect our social and political systems in profound ways. For example, the accelerating retreat of glaciers and ice sheets from the tropical mountains to the polar regions will have negative effects on the economy and agriculture of many of the most populated regions of the world. Mountain regions and surrounding environs cover a quarter of the Earth’s land surface, are home to a quarter of the world’s population, and are centers of biological and cultural diversity. Mountain glaciers serve as “the water towers of the world” and are at the headwaters of many river basins that supply water to over half of humanity. Thus, the disappearance of glaciers throughout the high mountains, especially in the Andes and the Himalaya, is a great cause of concern for not only the populations downstream but also the very diversity of life on the planet. Furthermore, as the water resources of these regions decline, the results will include conflicts between nations and mass migration to countries such as the US, Canada, and northern Europe.
Anthony Biglan: Community Interventions: One Strategy for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Community interventions have the potential to accelerate the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the research on reducing individual, household, and organizational emissions has focused on only one of these entities. However, a comprehensive multi-sector community effort has the potential to promote synergies that increase impact in each sector. For example, a school-based intervention that is designed to foster parent-child discussion of climate change could influence parents to become more favorable to proposed policy changes in their workplace and their community. This presentation will provide a brief overview of the state of empirical knowledge about community interventions to affect GHG emissions. It will also address the methodological issues involved in experimentally evaluating comprehensive community interventions to reduce GHG emissions.
Magnus Johansson: Reviewing Experimental Research on Reducing CO2-Emissions
The Climate Change Task Force of the Behavioral Science Coalition is conducting a systematic review of experimental research to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and this presentation will outline the results. The scope of the review is partially based on Hawken’s (2017) list of highest impact areas, where electricity, food and refrigeration dominated the top 10. Searches were conducted in two databases to find research targeting communities, households, organizations and policy initiatives, while also mapping sources of funding and research institutions involved in relevant research on climate change. The outcome of this review will be a useful reference for anyone seeking to contribute significant work in reducing our carbon footprints and move towards a sustainable world.
Mark P. Alavosius: Behaviors and Practices Relevant to Prevention and Resilience
Individual behaviors and organizational practices that slow, prevent or adapt to global warming entail much behavior change from “business as usual.” It is clear that greenhouse gas emissions continue despite efforts under the Paris Accord to reduce them. We have not stopped/reversed warming and time is running out. A challenge to constraining ourselves to address climate change is increasing the current value of those behaviors to individuals, organizations, and communities and fostering consideration of their value to future generations. A framework for governing consumption to preserve natural capital for future generations might consider how climate impacts affect communities, how those suffering now respond to climate crises and what agencies determine needed “sticky” interventions that persist over time and attract others to invest in their expansion. Central to preparation of curricula topics for what lies ahead are (1) assessments of communities now suffering, (2) understanding principles governing collective action, (3) interventions and policies that define contingencies and (4) organizational models that promote valuing of natural resources over unchecked consumption.
Immigration and Human Rights
Carlos Guevara: A Generation At Risk: Family Separation Policies Across the Country and Its Impact on American Children
In the spring of 2018, America watched in horror as nearly 3,000 children were separated from their parents on the southern border. Civil society groups have righteously and steadfastly responded to these harmful policies. What is often lost in the national conversation today is a deeper recognition that what has transpired at the border is just the tip of a very large iceberg. There are nearly 6 million American children in the country living with an undocumented parent. These families could be separated by deportation at any time. In 2019, UnidosUS published a report entitled, “Beyond the Border: Family Separation in the Trump Era.” It considers the consequences of a continued immigration policy status quo on these American children by looking at the intersection of immigration policy and health, education, and economic outcomes. The UnidosUS team has delved deeper into these issues including by examining the impact of the current immigration environment on K-12 student. We have also elevated these intersection in the press, including, in the context of a proposed housing policy change, in a New York Times op-ed by UnidosUS President and CEO, Janet Murguia. In short, UnidosUS believes that state-funded cruelty against immigrant communities imposes perhaps some of the steepest harms on American children, and that the nation is at a critical moment for action.
Richard Rakos: Cultural Behavior Science and Humane Immigration Policies: Let’s Go Back to the Future!
Behaviorism’s history of progressive social-cultural analysis and action started with its founder, John B. Watson. Among the social issues he addressed most stridently was the anti-immigration fervor that swept the United States during and after World War I. This nativism, energized by a surging eugenics movement that included virtually all the leading figures in US psychology, triumphed with the passage of the Johnson-Lodge Immigration Act of 1924 that established discriminatory “national origin quotas.” In this context, Dr. Rakos will discuss Watson’s famous “give me a dozen healthy infants” challenge, usually dismissed as ridiculous ideological hyperbole, as embedded in his scientific rebuttal to the eugenicists who championed the 1924 act. Unfortunately, though scientifically advocating for humane immigration policies is a legacy of behaviorism, a review of the literature since Watson indicates that immigration rarely has been an interest of cultural behavior science. However, given current anti-immigration policies and the criteria used to accept applicants, it is time for behaviorism to reclaim this legacy. In this presentation, Dr. Rakos will propose that an immigration policy grounded in a behavior analytic model offers a scientific alternative to current policies that is both humane in its treatment of applicants and beneficial in important ways to US society. He will include suggestions for what might comprise such a behaviorally based immigration policy and conclude by indicating several different way—research, social activism, and graduate student education—that cultural behavior science can return to one of its important roots and join other sciences in using its understandings to inform and promote humane immigration policies.
Megan Sullivan Kirby: I Am One of Skinner’s Uncommitted
Although the majority of behavior analytic practitioners work in a medical/outpatient model of ABA service delivery, a growing number of behaviorists express a desire to collaborate with other professions and apply the science of behavior to solve global crises. This talk will share one BCBA’s experience pivoting a career as a director of ABA services to graduate researcher designing educational interventions for displaced children (i.e., migrants, refugees). The purpose of the presentation is to educate others about what it may entail to be one of Skinner’s “uncommitted” (Skinner, 1987) and hopefully inspire fellow behavior analysts to combat the “inertia of affluence” (Mattaini & Aspholm, 2016) and join the fight to save the world with behavior analysis.
Shahla Ala’i: We Are All in This Together: Changing Individual Behavior to Support Humane Policies
Global injustices and dangers experienced by vulnerable populations are becoming more and more apparent. Many of these occur in borderlands and involve complex responses to people of different national, racial, and ethnic identities. The purpose of this presentation is to share the process and preliminary outcomes of an education project aimed to increase compassionate responses to suffering in vulnerable populations in borderlands. “Nur-e-Esperanza” is a collective learning project grounded in the philosophies of behaviorism, womanism, and the people’s science movement. Our approach involves inductive and participatory practices to increase the expansiveness and depth of social discourse within local communities. Specifically, we are developing and evaluating component training modules for (1) noticing and relating to the feelings of others, especially those that are very different than ourselves; (2) noticing and evaluating the social justice relationships between ourselves, communities and institutions; (3) noticing dimensions of social privilege, coercion and attraction; (4) engaging in skilled dialogs between people of diverse lived experiences; and, (5) engaging in the translation of values into strategic actions and reflections. Our topics center on race, gender, religion and nationality. Our dependent variables are changes in verbal behavior, feelings, and reported activism. The instructional design involves stimulus control procedures (systematic introduction and discrimination of increasingly complex classes of social justice/injustice examples) and collective shaping of noticing and engaging. The project is discussed in relation to the ways that understanding and changing individual behavior may support actions and policies that protect and enhance human life and reduce suffering.
Poverty and Welfare Policy
Bruce Thyer: A Behavior Analytic Perspective on Social Welfare Policy
This presentation provides a review of the application of elementary principles of operant behavior (both contingency-shaped and rule-governed behavior), toward the conceptualization, design, and evaluation of social welfare policy. All social policy is intended to influence human behavior, and it does this most often through the contrived manipulation of contingencies of punishment and, sometimes, reinforcement. Policies that use contingency management are provided to support this thesis, examples illustrating the use of positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment, shaping, and extinction. A form of within subject research designs known as time series studies are ideally suited to evaluate the outcomes of social welfare policies. Too often social welfare policies are devised on the basis of common sense, and lack a strong empirical background of successful experimental pilot testing under real life conditions. Thus, it is common for such policies to be ineffective, or to produce short- or long-term results that are harmful. Behavior analysts can contribute to the improvement of local communities and our larger society by contributing their expertise in altering human behavior via the design of new welfare policies, the modification of existing programs, and the critical analysis of ineffective ones.
Chris Ninness: Following the Data: Behavior Analysis in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Behavior analysts have long recognized the benefits of closely following their data; however, the data we are following may be changing faster than the tools we employ to analyze it. Recently, a variety of parametric and non-parametric statistical techniques have become popular alternatives to our foundational tactics in scientific research—even when the data at hand defies the underlying critical statistical assumptions. This problem even saturates behavior analytic investigations that focus on the evaluation of complex data related to public policy issues in areas such as poverty, geriatrics, and child welfare practice. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find statistical artifacts and anomalies tainting articles within many of our most prestigious journals within the disciplines of social services, criminal justice, and urban development. To further complicate this issue, many of our current technological advances are generating nonlinear, non-independent, and non-normal outcomes. In the face of this research enigma, there exists a much more powerful and precise set of classification and prediction platforms for researchers in the behavioral sciences. Unlike conventional statistical strategies, these systems do not entail critical assumptions pertaining to linearity, homoscedasticity, statistical independence, or normality. In this presentation, we explore the many ways in which several artificial intelligence systems and related neural network models are capable of accurately classifying and predicting outcomes employing data that is inconsistent with the assumptions underlying conventional statistics. We argue that these models have potential application to a broad spectrum of behavior analytic goals.
Jomella Watson-Thompson: Examining Socioeconomic Determinants as Antecedents to Violence Using a Behavioral Community Approach
There is increased attention to addressing problems of significant societal concern, which disproportionately affects marginalized populations and communities. The history and application of behavioral community approaches for addressing problems in communities including poverty and violence is explored. The integration of behavioral community approaches to examine socioeconomic determinants, including poverty, as antecedents to violence is presented. The importance of promoting cross-sector and multidisciplinary collaboration to advance behavioral community approaches within the context of addressing poverty is discussed. The presentation examines strengths, challenges, and opportunities for using a behavioral science approach to examine poverty as a socioeconomic determinant of health and well-being.
Roberta Freitas Lemos: Promoting Intersectoral Action to Address Chronic Poverty and Social Exclusion
Although the world has made huge efforts to overcome global poverty, 10% of the world’s population still lives in extreme poverty without access to the most basic needs such as water, sanitation, health, and education. Some families experience this condition for many years facing a situation that is difficult to emerge from. Previous studies have shown that the constraints of poverty induce a focus on immediate and safe payoffs. This situation becomes a cycle that perpetuates from generation to generation. This presentation will explore ways policy can be designed to incentivize individuals in the lower socioeconomic class to change their decision-making behaviors. Based on a behavioral perspective, we will (1) present a conceptual framework for chronic poverty, (2) discuss government policies aimed at reducing poverty, and (3) illustrate how intersectoral actions can provide adequate social services to alter the options faced by impoverished families and help address poverty and social exclusion.
Research and Training on Culturo-Behavior Science
Ingunn Sandaker: Teaching Students Cross-Sectoral and Multidisciplinary Approaches to Societal Challenges
Universities should highlight the consequences of antagonistic approaches to societal challenges. These are often paralleled into ideological frontiers. Even though there are need for highly specialized competencies to solve some of the wicked problems society encounter, the ability to exploit and explore complementary solutions increases as complexity grows. On all levels, from agent interaction to policy makers, the multidisciplinary behavioral insight offers tools that more effectively and more efficiently meet intended goals and address the real needs of citizens and end-users. Government interventions are often based on deductive approach, assuming human behavior to be profoundly rational and implementing reforms at full scale. By using the growing body of behavioral insights, one might de-bias this process by moving away from sometimes unrealistic assumptions of rationality to discover the actual behavior of individuals through problem identification, behavior analysis, experimentation and trialing that tests multiple policy responses at a smaller scale to determine the best course of action in a cost-effective manner. This will enable our students to not only addressing societal challenges, but also ability to contributing to the solutions.
Aecio Borba Vasconcelos Neto: Do Behavior Analysts Really Study That? Bringing Social Issues to the Discussion of Behavior Analysis in Brazil
Behavior analysis is well known in Brazil as one of the main approaches to experimental psychology, and as clinical practice to intervene with neurotypical or delayed developmental audiences. Less known in the country is how behavior analysis may approach social issues and systemic interventions. Although this has been an area of intense growth in Brazil in the last two decades, most of the students in psychology don’t know that behavior analysis deals with such topics. This presentation discusses some of the contingencies and metacontingencies that selected approaching social issues in Brazil, especially how psychology faculties and students over the years in general (and in behavior analysis in particular) have been part of social movements and directly related to social sciences since the 1970s. The presentation will finish with some of the strategies used to propagate this information among students in Brazil.
Traci Cihon: Getting Started in Culturo-Behavior Science
As a recently formalized specialization, culturo-behavior science (CBS) explores how to take behavior science to scale; how to better understand the influences of social, institutional, and cultural variables on cooperative and competitive behavior; and how behavior science can contribute to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. However, determining where to start and what strategies to use to develop expertise in an emerging specialization may prove challenging. Opportunities to be mentored, join labs, take formal courses, and conduct research in CBS are not yet widely available. Nonetheless, the Department of Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas has been instrumental in providing such opportunities for students, faculty, and scholars (i.e., the Behavior and Culture Lab coordinated by Glenn from 2006–12). Recently, we have rekindled such efforts with the creation of the Cultural Design and Systems Lab (Cihon, Becker, & Ortu 2018 to present) and the provision of graduate-level coursework in CBS. The goal of this presentation is to describe our recent efforts to provide opportunities for students, faculty, and scholars to pursue their interests in CBS and to make tangible suggestions for students, faculty, and scholars interested in getting started in CBS.
Marcelo Benvenuti: Basic Science is Also a “Real-World Problem”: Knowledge as Power and Scientific Literacy as Social Activism
For many social activists and applied researchers, once a technology that can solve a social problem is found, basic science loses its importance. For them, dealing with “big issues” is more important than investing in abstract understanding or predicting natural phenomena. In fact, ideas such as social justice, human rights, and environmental changes require urgent solutions. For this reason, knowledge directly related to behavior changes on a large scale is usually viewed as more important for social change than the ones made by basic science. The first is assumed to deal with “real-world problems” while the second is viewed as something abstract and distant from social demands in a world that claims for social change. However, the knowledge that comes from basic science is probably the most fundamental source of power in modern societies and more than an initial step to technology and innovation. Technology and innovation is only one aspect of scientific development. This presentation stands that basic science in culturo-behavior science is also a “real-world problem” in the sense that it explores fundamental questions of human existence, constantly reviews our comprehensions on our basic phenomena, provides a deep understanding of why certain practices works or not and connects us with other sciences. This is what makes scientific literacy a key component for social activism: We cannot only be efficient to promote behavior and social change in large scale, we must also inform people about what behavior means, what is cultural practices, so people can independently make better decisions in their daily lives. Dr. Benvenuti will try to highlight the need for a mutual relationship among basic science, applied science, programs for behavior change in large scale, and scientific literation as a mission for culture-behavior science.
Behavior Science and Community Health
Vincent Francisco: Behavioral Science and Community Health Improvement
While the field of applied behavioral science has provided many solutions for individual-level behavior change, much work is left to be done to ensure that these interventions and strategic approaches reach their potential to improve population-level health impacts. This presentation will focus on the advantages of integrating three seemingly disparate fields—behavioral science, community psychology and public health. By integrating key aspects of these fields of study, we can take advantage of the key strengths of each field and fulfill the promise of applied behavior analysis in creating a context which is more successful than before. Theoretical underpinnings of this approach will be presented, and examples of successful adaptation and intervention will be provided.
Casey Holtschneider: Toward a More Just and Effective Response to Youth Homelessness
Each year, an estimated 4.2 million unaccompanied youth ages 13-25 experience homelessness in the United States. The threats facing young people in housing crisis are many and their potential impacts, harrowing. Youth are at high risk for physical and sexual victimization, mental and physical illness, involvement with the criminal justice system, and face serious threats to their education, their future economic stability, and their lives. This presentation will critically examine the current approach to services for youth in situations of homelessness in the United States. Directly informed by the lived experience of young people, it calls for a shift in our understanding of the nature and scope of the problem and consequently, our practice and policy strategies being implemented to address it.
Sustainable Peace and Social Justice
Kerri Kennedy: Shared Security: A Vision for Sustainable Peace and Security for All
People across the world face growing insecurity. Violent conflict is spreading and intensifying, economic inequality is widening, and the climate is in jeopardy. At the same time, never have the fates of individual, communities and nations been so intertwined. And never have our safety and well-being depended so much on the safety and well-being of others. The prevalent narrative that increased militarization equals security leads to increased violence at state, local and individual levels, spreading fear and insecurity, fomenting future violence. In this talk, Kerri Kennedy will explore Shared Security, our attempt to reframe security as being inclusive and egalitarian and grounded in the wellbeing of people rather than in the interests of nation states. The presentation will cover strategies where individuals and communities were able to use active nonviolence and peacebuilding strategies to reduce conflict, address community trauma associated with violence and to make positive structural changes that promote peace and justice for all.
Roberto Aspholm: Conceptualizing Gang Violence Prevention From the Streets Up
Street gangs and community violence remain among the most pressing social issues within the urban landscape. Recent spikes in shooting and killings in a number of cities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and following the social upheaval in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police, moreover, have given the topic of urban violence renewed traction in national public discourse. Yet much of this discourse is based on crude characterizations of gang members, the nature of this violence, and the dynamics fueling it. Unsurprisingly, public officials typically have little idea how to effectively address such violence, and ostensibly evidence-based interventions routinely fail to produce their intended—and often loudly mis-touted—effect.
Drawing on years of community-engaged research on Chicago’s South Side and in East St. Louis, Illinois, this presentation will provide clarity as to the complex and interrelated conditions fueling gang membership and collective violence as well as the structural nature of these conditions. Specifically, street gangs constitute a form of social organization that provides material and psychosocial benefits to their members, including modest economic support, protection in navigating a violent social landscape, emotional support, a sense of identity and meaning.
Membership in such collectives represents a compelling prospect for young people facing desperate circumstances, ongoing traumas, and few prospects for even a minimally stable life. Within this context, vendetta-style collective violence—that is, gang warfare—constitutes, most centrally, a manifestation of solidarity among group members. Interventions that fail to account for the structural determinants of gang membership and for the solidaristic nature of gang violence are likely to fail, and generally have. The presentation closes with a discussion of an alternative framework for intervention firmly rooted in these realities.
Future of Culturo-Behavioral Science
Mark Mattaini: Interdisciplinary Action Supporting Cultures of Social and Environmental Justice
This presentation will draw from and integrate concepts and data presented by invited speakers throughout this conference, exploring the promise and challenges of transdisciplinary efforts for pursuing a common core goal: sustainable, just, and reinforcing societies. To structure the material that follows, Dr. Mattaini will first outline and exemplify scientifically grounded, operational definitions of social and environmental justice and their interrelation. He will then review promising ecological approaches for supporting cultures striving to operationalize and realize such societies, and the cultural systems analytic methods from which such approaches emerge. Integrating material from the conference presentations, recent developments in the Behaviorists for Social Responsibility’s Matrix Project, and his earlier work in the book Strategic Nonviolent Power: The Science of Satyagraha, the speaker will explore examples of constructional community and social action, policy advocacy, and where necessary, civil disobedience. Given the structural realities present in contemporary societies, including the ethical challenges presented to professionals and scientists in situations of marginalization, inequity, and multiple forms of oppression, the presentation will end with a call for critical self- and collective reflection directed toward reshaping models of community and cultural analysis and intervention, and committing to the actions identified by that reflection.
Federal Science Policy
Juliane Baron and Sharon Courtney: Science Policy: Understanding and Informing the Decision-Making Process
To many scientists, the policy making process in Washington, DC, is a black box. In this session, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the federal decision-making process, beyond the “Schoolhouse Rock” version, from a long-time science advocate. Budget and policy decisions affect funding for science and in the past, behavioral sciences have been negatively impacted by a lack of understanding of and appreciation for the field. The Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS) represents ABAI in Washington, DC. This session is an opportunity to learn more about the work of FABBS and strategies for communicating with decision makers. Scientists interested in connecting their research to policy decisions and legislation should not miss this session.
Impact of Higher Education on Society
Maria Amalia Andery and Emmanuel Zagury Tourinho: The Impact of Higher Education on Society
Societies have always depended on education: it is through education—formal or not—that many operant repertoires and many culturo-behavioral practices are developed. In modern, complex societies higher education is crucial because of the techno-scientific basis and infrastructure upon which our societies are built. Institutions responsible for higher education are necessary because they are responsible for the replication of such knowledge. It is through higher education that socially relevant operant repertoires—replicated over millions of people—are developed. But the role of higher education is not the mere reproduction of knowledge or of patterns of behavior and culturo-behavioral practices. As institutions, colleges and universities are nowadays important sources of wealth, contributing directly for economic growth of local, regional and even national communities. Most crucially, as institutions, universities and colleges also contribute to the building of patterns of ethical and socially responsible behaviors: from within universities stem many new cultural practices that lead to social development and to the solving of cultural problems. Universities (as the institutions responsible for higher education) are linked with the decrease of violence, of social inequality, and of poverty, and with the increase of social awareness, democratic societies, and responsible public policies. Finally, universities—even when they are small and have only direct local influence—have a tendency to become part of a much larger system that is mostly concerned with shaping up positive behavior and social justice.
Angela M. Campbell, Mark Jackson, and Monica Porter: Increasing Black Participation in Higher Education
According to the U. S. Department of Education, in 41 years, from 1976–2017, college enrollment of Black students increased only 4%, from 10% to 14% of the total student population. Furthermore, 58% of Black students who enter higher education do not graduate. In Black colleges graduation rates are even lower. A recent study of 24 Black colleges found that two thirds or more of the students who enter do not graduate.
In a university where 12% of the students are Black and only 35.4% graduate within six years, some remarkable things have happened. In the last 38 years, a White professor, committed to increasing diversity in behavior analysis, has graduated 16 Black students with MAs in behavior analysis. Four went on to earn their doctorates with him and 6 with other advisors. Many of these graduates are now using their behavior-systems-analysis skills helping the Black community build a better world.
Although this panel is focused on Black graduates from higher education, it is worth noting that the same faculty member, employing the same graduate-training system also graduated 24 international students (12 Ph.D.s and 12 MAs) from Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, most of whom are now using their behavior-systems-analysis skills in helping their international communities.
What does it take to attain such accomplishments in higher education? In this panel, three of this professor’s Black graduates will share key features of the program’s success. In addition, they will speak of how those features influenced their own efforts to advance minority success in higher education throughout their careers and current university positions.
Critical Conceptual Issues on Culturo-Behavior Science
Sigrid Glenn: Classification and Culturo-Behavioral Science
Classification is at the heart of all science and the power of highly generalized classification systems is evident in physics, chemistry and biology. Classification in the social sciences depends on the specific phenomena being studied. Each discipline has its own classification based on the specific phenomena of interest: Bands and tribes; cities and states; governments and corporations; families, gangs, and schools, and so on. All of these classes are defined in terms of the relations among the behavior of people. This commonality suggests that a unifying system of classification, that could apply to all of those phenomena, might be possible. Perhaps the nascent classifications of culturo-behavior science are a step in that direction.
Jonathan Krispin: Moving Culturo-Behavioral Analysis From Conceptual to Practical: Developing Culturo-Behavioral Tools of the Trade
Culturo-behavioral science is a rapidly developing field within behavior analysis. A number of indicators point to this fact. For example, Mattaini (2006) questioned whether or not cultural analysis would ever become a science, focusing particularly on the concept of the metacontingency (Glenn 1988: 1991), which had been proposed as an emergent level of selection. Thirteen years later, ABAI is publishing a book on culturo-behavioral analysis and is hosting a conference dedicated exclusively to culturo-behavioral considerations. While progress has been made, there remains much work to be done. One of Mattaini’s (2006) biggest criticisms of the metacontingency stemmed from the fact that, at that time, almost no research had been done that focused on metacontingencies. Since that time, there has been a significant increase in the amount of published research articles focusing on metacontingencies (see Zilio, 2019), but there is still a question as to the efficacy of the metacontingency, at least as a process of cultural selection (Couto & Sandaker, 2016, Krispin 2016, Zilio, 2019). Additionally, application of these ideas has remained limited, however (see Zilio, 2019) and remains a daunting challenge (see Mattaini, in press). One area that has lagged behind the conceptual development in culture-behavioral analyses is the development of standardized tools for analyzing and understanding the selective dynamics that are at work in a given situation. In an effort to begin to address this short-coming, a new framework and corresponding tool for analyzing interactions between individual contingencies, metacontingencies, and the selection contingencies that stem from the selection of an Aggregate Product by a Selecting Environment/Receiving System. This framework begins to extend the ABC analysis that is commonly used in applied behavior analysis to include aspects of rule-governed behavior (pliance rules versus tracking rules, pliance consequences versus tracking consequences), as well as compare the types of systems-dynamics feedback (positive feedback loops versus negative feedback loops) that stem from metacontingencies that compete for organizational resources. This framework and tool will be illustrated using organizational contingencies typical of a behavioral systems approach, with some attention given to its potential application in wider culturo-behavioral settings.
Ramona A. Houmanfar: Role of Verbal Behavior and Artifacts in Cultural Change
This presentation will provide an overview of the elaborated account of metacontingency with the primary focus on ways this perspective offers points of entry to alter contextual factors influencing cultural practices. The concepts of metacontingency and macro contingency are emphasized as foundational concepts in the behavior scientific analysis of the interaction between organizational practices producing products and behaviors of their consumers. Moreover, the role of cultural milieu as a mediating factor in this interaction will be highlighted. The discussion of cultural phenomena also acknowledges the behaviors of verbally sophisticated consumers interacting with the many aggregate products of cultural entities as well as the verbal contexts within which members of organized groups operate. The presentation will also highlight the recent experimental and conceptual analyses associated with the role of context in the selection of cooperation and resilience.
Felipe Lustosa Leite: Of Broken Windows and Beggars: Control Agencies, Complexity and Large-Scale Changes in Cultural Practices
The set of conditional relationships (contingencies and metacontingencies) that regulate behavioral interactions in a society characterizes its culture. These conditional relationships may encompass society as a whole or parts of society, with evolving complexity. The increasing complexity of sets of conditional relationships can be mapped by identifying and describing changes in the external environment of a specific cultural system that affects demands upon it, population size, function specialization of its members, hierarchical layers, conflicts between contingencies that affect different individuals and groups, and disparity of consequences for the individual and for the group. Following the increasing specialization of individual behavioral repertoire, specialized societal behavioral interactions can emerge. One such are control agencies, which regulate sets of conditional relationships and are specialized by type of interaction or various other performance criteria. Although experimental studies of large-scale changes in cultural practices are all but impossible, natural experiments and quasi-experimentation available methods to observe the effects of independent variables as theoretically predicted. The present paper analyzes a few cases of large-scale changes in cultural practices at a societal level, mainly involving public policies, in an attempt to identify behavioral and cultural processes that occurred and associating these with elements of cultural complexity which they affected or that were manipulated.
Public Health Expansion in Marginalized and Underserved Communities
Kaston D. Anderson-Carpenter: Applied Behavior Analysis at the Margins: Opportunities for Public Health Expansion in Marginalized and Underserved Communities
Much of the applied behavior analytic literature centers on changing individual behavior in a controlled environment, yet behavior analysis research and practice has critical applications in community and population-level behavior. Its application to the field of public health, for instance, provides scientists with a technology for functional contextual analyses of behaviors related to health conditions such as HIV acquisition and substance use disorder. This talk focuses on how applied behavior analysis can further expand to address critical public health issues within marginalized and underserved communities. Special attention will be given to cultural considerations in developing, implementing, and evaluating behavior-analytic interventions in these populations.
Implementing Behavior Analysis at Scales of Social Importance
Robert Horner: Implementing Behavior Analysis at Scales of Social Importance
The principles of behavior analysis hold great promise for addressing many of the major challenges faced in society. Yet the applications of behavior analysis remain limited in scope and breadth. This session will focus on the large-scale application of applied behavior analysis in educational settings. Emphasis will be given to identifying the core features of effective educational environments, and the process for implementing those features with high fidelity, sustainability, and at scales of social significance. Experience over the past two decades with implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) in over 27,000 schools will be described.